- Simone Del Mestre is a pivotal player for Italy
- The Azzurri keeper is about to play in his fifth World Cup despite coming to the sport "by chance"
- After two fourth-place finishes, he will shave off his beard and hair if Italy win the trophy
"Beach soccer? What’s that?"
Simone Del Mestre was at his home in Lignano Sabbiadoro when he was first contacted by a beach soccer club back in 2007, on the recommendation of a friend who had not even warned him that a call might be coming. Despite being taken by surprise, the Italian – who was 23-years-old at the time – decided 'nothing ventured, nothing gained'.
Twelve years on and he is considered to be one of the top three goalkeepers in the world in the discipline, and in Paraguay he will be taking part in his fifth FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup™.
"I always say that I came to the sport by chance but the first time I played on sand, it was incredible," he tells FIFA.com a few days before his team make their debut at Paraguay 2019 against Tahiti.
"I’ve been playing football since I was 11-years-old – 11-a-side and futsal. It was different and I was pretty good at it. In 2008 I was called up to play beach soccer for my country and took part in my first World Cup the following year."
Changes brought success
Since then, much has changed for Del Mestre, in particular the way he actually keeps goal. "Before I used to focus on making saves and using my hands. On sand you need to use your feet and at times act as a fifth outfield player, and I like that," he explains.
For the first time in his international career he will not be sharing the duties with Stefano Spada, who is not in the Italian squad this time around. The two men have alternated in goal for their country to date, in an arrangement which both have come to accept.
"We’ve got great keepers. You might have a hierarchy in other teams, but Stefano and I have always been at the same level and that’s an advantage for us," Del Mestre says.
There are times when the two substitute off-and-on in the same match without breaking stride. "Whatever happens, I never lose my concentration. It actually keeps me more focused and there are times when it unsettles the opposition," he adds.
For Italy’s most recent tournament win at the 2018 Euro Beach Soccer League, Del Mestre stepped up in the final against Spain, saving a crucial penalty. He was also in the top three for the prestigious Beach Soccer Worldwide Goalkeeper of the Year award in 2019.
"I’m proud to have been considered alongside Mao from Brazil, who is an absolute legend in the sport, and Russia’s Chuzhkov, whom I’ve been lucky enough to get to know. He really deserved the award."
Hair – and beard! – to go if Italy win
In Paraguay, Italy will be looking to achieve better than the fourth place they have finished in at the last two Beach Soccer World Cups. In 2015, the Azzurri lost their semi-final to Tahiti before going down to Russia in the match for third place. The same happened in 2017 when they lost to Brazil and then IR Iran.
"We know that this is a hurdle. To make it to the final we need to put in a perfect performance against opponents like that," Del Mestre says. "We are capable of doing it, but we haven’t managed it to date. In the third-place matches, we’ve been low on concentration and energy."
|Italy's schedule in Paraguay||🆚||⏰(local time)|
|21 November||🇵🇫 Tahiti||16:15|
|23 November||🇺🇾 Uruguay||19:25|
|25 November||🇲🇽 Mexico||16:15|
Despite this sobering analysis, the Italian keeper is nevertheless optimistic. "Our success on the European stage has given us the confidence we were lacking for this type of match. We’re ready on every level."
Indeed, Del Mestre is so keen to lift the trophy that he has even promised to shave off his beard – that he first grew back in 2013 – if they win the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup. "I can’t imagine myself without a beard – it’s part of my personality. But who cares? If we win the title, I’ll even shave my hair off!" he says with a grin.
More about Del Mestre…
- After Italy won the European Championship, he had the trophy tattooed onto his right leg as well as a lion’s head. "This animal represents me well because it is a symbol of fighting spirit."
- In his rare moments of free time since the birth of his daughter three-and-a-half years ago, he likes to play Fortnite, Call of Duty and FIFA. "I may be a fan of AC Milan but I always play as Juventus or Manchester United on my console."
- Having reached the age of 36, the Italian does not know what the future holds for him, joking that: "You’d better ask my wife! I could become a beach soccer goalkeeper coach."